Paula Kerger, President and CEO, PBS Keynote at 2012 PBS Annual Meeting


2012 PBS Annual Meeting
Paula Kerger, President and CEO, PBS
Denver, Colorado

Thank you all, and welcome again to Denver.

First, let me thank Governor Hickenlooper for his tremendous support of public broadcasting. We’re honored that he could join us today, to give us a proper Colorado welcome.

Thank you also to our host General Managers, Doug Price of Rocky Mountain PBS and Wick Rowland of Colorado Public Television.

The work you and your stations do to serve Coloradans every day is extremely important to the health and vitality of this state, and our country.

I hope that you all were able to enjoy the view of the Front Range coming in from the airport. Even from ninety miles away, Pikes Peak and Long Peak are just stunning.

There’s something about being among big mountains that’s both humbling and inspiring, that speaks to our human spirit to explore, to see new vistas, and gain a new perspective on the world.

Looking over at Pikes Peak, it’s hard to imagine that halfway around the globe, there are mountains that reach twice as high into the heavens.

Nearly sixty years ago this month, two brave men reached the summit of the highest peak on earth, over five miles in the sky.

On May 29th, 1953, 33 year old beekeeper Sir Edmund Hillary (just Edmund at the time), and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay summited the peak of Everest, and looked down at the earth spread before them.

Now I am not trying to compare their trek with what it took all of us to ascend to Denver.

But I do think that there’s a lot in common between these two great explorers and our public television system.

Throughout our history, PBS has been a pioneer. We have taken television content to new heights, brought our audiences to the edge of the universe and back, and encouraged generations of children to imagine the vast vistas of the world around them.

We have not done this alone.

Just as Hillary and Norgay had a team of three hundred and fifty working to get them to the summit, our entire system has worked together for over forty years to bring the best of the arts, science, news, drama, history and children’s content to our communities.

But our crowning achievement, our Everest ascent, is not measured by our ground-breaking content, or the pinnacles of critical recognition our work has achieved.
What distinguishes public television the most is the soaring reach of our mission.

Alone among media companies, we are solely charged with using the media to inspire, inform, and engage all Americans.

Apart from all the rest, we have broken new ground and defined the possibilities of a public media organization.

And without any peers, we have earned the trust of the American people.

For the ninth year in a row, we were named the most trusted institution in this country, and the second best use of tax dollars, second only to military defense.
That’s quite an impressive accomplishment, and I think that we should all reflect on what an honor that is today.

We couldn’t have done it without the contributions of some of public television’s pioneers.  As we come together as one community, let’s take a moment to honor our colleagues who we lost this year.

Jim Fellows was truly a pioneer of public broadcasting. Over his long career, he worked to unite the many interests in public television in order to educate and inspire the American public.  With his passing in January, public television lost a leading light, and a good friend.

We also mourn the passing of Jane Krutz, winner of the PBS National Volunteer Award, and a tireless advocate for the Arkansas Educational Network for more than 47 years. She will be missed, not only by her friends in Arkansas, but by all of us who were touched by her generous spirit.

Even as we reflect on the past, we must look ahead to what lies before us.
Although we have conquered many mountains, today we are faced with new challenges, and new summits to reach.

We exist in an entirely different landscape than when public television was started.

Just look at the ways in which people consume media.

Viewers are no longer tethered to a broadcast schedule, but instead expect their television content to be accessible on demand, whether that’s through DVR’s or the Internet.

Television content has undergone a profound transformation as well. When public television was founded, there was no such thing as reality television.

By last year, it accounted for about 56% of broadcast schedules.

And the way that people engage with their communities is completely different.

Instead of using the postal service, or even the telephone, business and personal connections are increasingly made on social media platforms like Facebook or Pinterest.

Over the last two years, we have made significant accomplishments that have helped us ascend up the base of this new mountain.

By staying focused on our strategic plan, we have been able to build our audiences with new award winning content, deepen our commitment to children and teachers, and connect to audiences across more platforms.

We have invested in content that’s smart, distinctive, and entertaining; content that stands apart from the rest of the media landscape, and we’ve begun to see a real growth in our audiences as a result.

Of course, when I say this, everyone in the room immediately thinks of MASTERPIECE’s DOWNTON ABBEY, which has created immeasurable buzz for public broadcasting.

From Saturday Night Live parodies to Vanity Fair spreads, I think it’s safe to say we’re riding a tsunami of public enthusiasm for this outstanding British drama, and bringing new audiences to our stations.

In fact, just yesterday Solutions Research Group released a study on TV brands. Thanks in large part to Downton, we moved up 7 spots to the #12 “must keep TV” brand in America.

Among women 18+, we were ranked ahead of brands like TBS and HBO.

Many stations have used Downton Abbey to deepen relationships with existing donors and engage with new prospects.  Ten stations have participated in the Masterpiece Trust, which has raised just over $2.7 million for the production of Masterpiece and for donor's local stations.

But our collective success goes beyond DOWNTON. We have seen significant growth across our schedule, which means we’re reaching more Americans.

Our audience is up 4% from the previous season.

We continue to have enormous reach: over the course of a year, 91% of all U.S. television households – and 236 million people – watch PBS.

We’ve almost doubled our audience for NOVA on Wednesday nights, adding 700,000 viewers to the “smartest night on television” by creating compelling science content and moving NOVA next to NATURE, to make it easier for audiences to find our science programming in the schedule.

We continue to be one of the few sources for content that exposes people to the spectacular breadth and reach of the arts. 

Last fall, more than one quarter of all U.S. households tuned in to our PBS arts programming, including millions who connected with the arts through the PBS Arts Fall Festival.

Our KIDS programming is also reaching new heights. Year over year, a million more children watch our shows.

We’ve also had extremely strong growth in the digital space.

Three years ago, Americans watched 2 million of our videos online a month.

In March, we had more than 140 million streams on our web and mobile platforms!
And visits to our KIDS’ site have been particularly strong -- up 34% in March of 2012 compared to March of 2011.

Our collective work has been recognized with countless awards.

In the last year, we’ve been honored with twelve Daytime Emmy Awards, fourteen Primetime Emmy Awards, and six News & Documentary Emmy Awards.

We were also recognized with seven Peabody Awards, more than any other organization.

And we received a Golden Globe for "Downton Abbey."

To extend the mountain climbing analogy, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve reached Base Camp: we’ve made some significant gains, but there’s still a long way to go to reach the summit.

In order to fully realize our mission to serve the American people with content that inspires them to realize their full potential, we must continue to evolve into a public media organization that serves Americans across platforms.

Our guide stars in this journey are what I call the “Three C’s”:

Community Engagement; and

By revitalizing our content, strengthening our service to our communities, and finding new ways to connect with our audiences, we will continue to fulfill our public service mission to help all Americans “Be More.”

And we will chart a new path forward for public television, ensuring our content and services are more relevant and vital than ever before.

First, let me talk about content.

We must build on the momentum we’ve created in order to expand our impact, and bring in new members to the public broadcasting family.

Moving forward, we will be investing in bringing our audiences more content that can’t be found anywhere else in the media landscape.

On Wednesday nights, we are building a centerpiece destination for science and natural history programming.

Our focus on the arts on Fridays will continue with the return of Sound Tracks, an upcoming profile of the Joffrey Ballet, and a full week devoted to the complete Ring Cycle from The Metropolitan Opera.

This summer we’ll broadcast the 2012 PBS Summer Arts Festival on Friday nights, which will be hosted by the award winning actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith.

The Summer Arts Festival will include a variety of American and international arts and arts makers, from an in-depth profile of noted art collector Dr. Albert Barnes, to a behind-the-scenes look at actor John Leguizamo (Leh-gwih-ZAH-mo) and an historic concert by four Cuban music greats.

We remain committed to highlighting the best independent films, to be a destination for a wide spectrum of voices, points of view, and distinctive visions.

Beginning this fall, POV and INDEPENDENT LENS will move to Mondays at 10 PM.  One of the most watched nights on public television, Monday will also play host to a multi week independent film festival that will kick off in mid 2013.

As was done with the arts, we hope the film festival will enable PBS member stations to connect with and shine a light on independent film and filmmakers in local communities,  and in doing so help stations build relationships with an important constituency.
We are also committed to providing quality journalism that can’t be found elsewhere in the media landscape.

Today’s citizens have many choices for news and information.

In an increasingly fragmented and frenzied news and public affairs landscape that offers a great deal of heat, but not a lot of light, Americans turn to PBS for programming with depth, integrity and thoughtful analysis – independent, substantive journalism that offers multiple perspectives and respects people’s intelligence.

This is especially important in an election year. As a nation, we cannot begin to come together to confront our problems if we don’t have reliable, accurate reporting to inform our decisions.

In 2012, each of our news and public affairs programs will have expanded coverage to help voters make an informed choice at the polls.

We’ll also be working with our stations and other partners to increase our coverage of local elections.

And we’re doing this across platforms, to harness the power of digital media to provide more information, engage citizens in active conversation and enable deeper, local coverage.

NEWSHOUR has experimented with innovative ideas like crowdsourcing the translation of the President’s State of the Union speech in order to make the information more accessible to people all around the world.

And I know that stations like KPBS in San Diego, who just completed construction on a beautiful integrated newsroom that combines TV, radio, online, and mobile journalism, will use their combined resources to bring in-depth local coverage across all platforms to their communities.

I believe our most important work begins when the election is over.

We are going to continue to focus on programming that will encourage a national discourse about the issues that matter to the American people.

While we will continue our strategic emphasis on primetime content, we are not forgetting about our youngest citizens.

We are also focused on providing KIDS content that helps our nation’s children be ready for school and for life.

This fall, we’ll further our commitment to preparing our youngest citizens for school when we launch DANIEL TIGER’S NEIGHBORHOOD -- the first children’s series from The Fred Rogers’ company since MISTER ROGER’S NEIGHBORHOOD. 

Built on a school readiness curriculum, the series promises to be our biggest KIDS launch in years, and will present a unique opportunity for stations to continue to garner support locally.

In order to build our relationships with our audiences and donors, we are more actively creating content connections between pledge programming and our regular schedule, and will seek to maximize these connections in the coming year in order to help build more support for stations.

This brings me to the second of our “three c’s”: Community engagement.

Public media is uniquely positioned to address the needs of our communities, by translating the power of television into real impact in our communities because we have boots on the ground across the country.

Unlike commercial stations, PBS member stations are owned by the people they serve.

Because of this powerful national/local model, we are able to leverage the transformative power of our national content, and translate that into real change within communities.

For example, for the Arts Fall Festival 50 PBS member stations created their own local content to air alongside the Festival’s national content. Thanks to their work, audiences were inspired to learn more about local arts content in their communities.

In Seattle, KCTS created a short film to partner with the airing of “Pearl Jam Twenty,” which took a deeper look at the local music scene.

And, inspired by the success of this film, KCTS has created a partnership with the Seattle International Film Festival. The partnership, called REEL NW, airs independent documentaries about the local area.

In Nevada, Vegas PBS’ work highlighting the arts in their community that was created around the Arts Festival has been nominated for two Emmys.

KCTS and Vegas PBS are not the only stations to leverage their arts programming in the community. Rocky Mountain PBS here in Colorado, KLRU in Austin, KLRN in San Antonio, KACV in the Texas Panhandle, MPTV in Milwaukee, WEDU in Florida and CETconnect in Cincinnati are just a few stations who are leading the way in highlighting the arts in their community.

But our work in communities goes far beyond the arts.

Georgia Public Broadcasting has launched the GPBWell Initiative, which uses multimedia to promote healthy lifestyles for all Georgians.

Alaska Public Broadcasting has created a virtual town square online, to help encourage vital discourse on issues that matter to Alaskans.

And stations across the country have created initiatives to help their communities connect to job opportunities.

At the national level, we are focused on creating tools that you can use to reach more members of your communities.

Recent research has shown that access to computers, smartphones and tablets is much less prevalent in lower-income households, limiting children’s exposure to educational apps.

In a first-of-its-kind collaboration, PBS and CPB are providing free educational apps to Head Start centers, local PBS stations, and other organizations in underserved communities nationwide.

In partnership with WGBH, we are also focused on developing our reach into the classroom with PBS LearningMedia.

Since its launch, the service has been localized by 105 PBS licensees, representing 239 stations in 42 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

Today, PBS LearningMedia includes close to 20,000 assets, including video clips, lesson plans, and interactive digital tools, from our archives and institutions like the Library of Congress, National Archives and NASA.

PBS LearningMedia has already brought our stations new opportunities to highlight their value to their community, and find new sources of revenue.

In Florida, where state funding for public broadcasting was zeroed out, legislators have substantially restored TV station funding because of the case made by Florida Public Television about the value of their educational services, including PBS LearningMedia.

As we grow PBS LearningMedia, we hope that more stations will be able to identify new sources of revenue based on the expanded services we will be able to provide.

Our ability to share our content and engage with our communities depends on our ability to connect with our audiences.

That’s why the third “c” of our guide stars is “connection.”

By connecting to our audiences via the web and mobile devices, as well as our traditional broadcast platform, PBS is more accessible to more Americans now than at any time in public broadcasting’s history.

We are working in the digital space to build infrastructure that will empower stations to make their local content more easily available to audiences.

We are moving forward with Station Bento, a CPB grant funded project designed to make it easy for stations to create fully featured web sites and leverage online content.

We are also moving forward with our pilot project to integrate local station content into our mobile apps.

And we’re growing our tools and resources in the social media sphere to help keep the “public” in public media.

We now have over one million Facebook fans and more than one million followers on Twitter.

And we are working with stations to create geo-targeted posts that will help local stations reach PBS fans with relevant messages.

We are committed to help our system build out online fundraising capabilities, so that stations can connect to new donors.
What’s most exciting about all of our online work is that we are able to reach a new and different audience.

Over sixty percent of visitors watching videos are between the ages 18 to 49, and the average age of our online viewer is 35.

Up until now, our work in the digital sphere has focused on distribution: how we can connect our content to as many users as possible.

But instead of just using new technologies as a platform to distribute our existing content, it’s time to use our digital platforms to experiment, and push the boundaries of our work.

With vision and leadership from Twin Cities Public Television, we are launching a new website to reach America’s booming 50+ population as they plan for and literally define a new life stage.

Launching this week, Next Avenue will present the knowledge, advice and wisdom of today’s leading experts on the best ways to navigate life after 50.

Over the next year, we’ll continue to experiment with formats that aren’t suitable for broadcast, but further our mission to educate, inspire, and engage our audiences.

It’s all a part of our pioneering spirit – to boldly embrace the new media landscape, using the wisdom and experience we have gained in the last forty years of public broadcasting to guide our way forward.

Using content, community engagement, and connection as our guide stars, we’ll continue to stake out new altitudes for public media.

When I think back to that historic ascent in 1953, ultimately, it’s not Sir Edmund Hillary that I identify with most closely.

Instead, I see our spirit in Tenzing Norgay, who served as Sir Edmund’s trusted guide.

Born of very humble origins, Norgay made his first foray into the clouds in 1935 at the age of nineteen, when he served as a porter on a reconnaissance mission.

By 1953, he was the most experienced Everest veteran alive, having participated in six previous attempts to reach the summit.

He earned Sir Edmund’s trust over the course of their 1953 ascent, once saving him from falling into a crevasse.

He led the way up a new side of the mountain, using his experience from previous expeditions.

But it was his spirit of teamwork that truly moves me.

He always said, “climbing is not about your-self, it's about teamwork.”

He climbed to give his children a better life, a chance at an education, and a world beyond the mountains of Nepal.

We too, climb so that we may help others reach the top.

We struggle so that others may learn something new, and find new horizons and new worlds.

And we work so that all Americans may enjoy a richer, fuller life.

With all this talk of climbing mountains, I think it’s easy to make the mistake of thinking about accomplishments for their own sake, measuring our impact in ratings, or our achievements based on awards.

As Mr. Rogers once said: “It's really easy to fall into the trap of believing that what we do is more important than what we are. Ironically, the opposite is true: What we are ultimately determines what we do.”

Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay proved themselves heroes in 1953 because they embodied the best of the human spirit.

Humble, capable, and determined, they showed us what can be accomplished when people work together to achieve a dream.

The men and women of public broadcasting share that same spirit and fortitude in our dedication to improving the lives of everyone across this great country.

I have confidence that we can climb the highest peaks, overcome whatever challenges may lie in our path, and reach new heights for public media, because of what we are: an astounding collection of individuals, and individual stations that come together every day to serve the American people.

We are our nation’s best guides, its biggest classroom, and the greatest stage for the arts.

In the spirit of a long line of explorers we are driven to find, step, see, and go, where no media organization has gone before.

And while the mountains may be humbling, by putting one foot in front of the other, we will surely reach the summit.

Thank you.

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